Andrea Marcovicci is the perfect entertainer for the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, a venue that is normally all but impossible to play. This is partly because no one is better at what's been called "rotisserie cabaret" than Marcovicci: She somehow manages to play to everyone in the room, even if many patrons are seated more or less behind her. But she is also the ideal performer for this dark room because, unlike so many others, she can light it up with her personality. And just as she and the Oak Room make an ideal pair, so do Marcovicci and the current subject of her show, Gertrude Lawrence. As Marcovicci slyly notes about Lawrence, "People said she couldn't sing, but who cared?" In fact, every detail of Lawrence's talent and appeal could just as easily describe Marcovicci. When she says that Lawrence made everyone in the audience fall in love with her, we can't help but recall writing much the same about the enchanting woman before us.
Even though Marcovicci is packing them in again in this, her 14th season at the Oak Room, not everyone wants to be in her audience. She is, in fact, something of a litmus test for cabaret lovers. Generally speaking, if you go to the clubs to hear beautiful sounds, she's not for you; but if hearing a lyric caressed is more important to you than hearing a note gorgeously sung, there's no one quite like her. Obviously, we fall in the latter category. In addition to reading a lyric like the accomplished actress that she is, Marcovicci puts a show together with great care and considerable wit. By the time her present show is over, you will feel as if you've graduated from Marcovicci University with a diploma in Gertrude Lawrence. By the way, Marcovicci is beautifully aided and abetted by the professor at the piano, Shelly Markham; his agile arrangements support the singer and bring their own sense of style to the songs.
If this show has one flaw, it is the fact that Marcovicci urges the audience to sing along with her far too many times. She has always involved patrons in her performances this way, and it's rather sweet (if a bit corny), but she goes to the well too often this time. Still, this is a small annoyance. In the course of teaching us about the woman who was Noël Coward's closest pal and starred in productions ranging from Coward's own Private Lives to Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I, Marcovicci uses tunes associated with Lawrence to explicate her life. In reference to the young Lawrence, unsure of her path, we hear "I Don't Know" (Jeans/Braham). The lady's lifelong, platonic love affair with Coward is limned by two of the master's tunes, artfully coupled: "Somewhere I'll Find You" and "You Were There." Lawrence died of cancer while starring in The King and I, and Marcovicci sings "Hello Young Lovers" with a sense of poignant perspective to reflect the denouement of her life.
Happily, we also get a post-graduate seminar on the 1941 Lawrence hit Lady in the Dark, in which Marcovicci recently starred at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. She offers four selections from that Gershwin/Weill score: "One Life to Live" (her act's title tune) and "My Ship." This show is definitely Marcovicci's ship--and if that ship happens to be sailing in the direction of your cabaret tastes, you should immediately get aboard.